Think of God as He dwells within us. This way is most practical, because when we think of God within us, we are not merely imagining something that is unreal. God is really and truly within us. God is in all things — by His presence as an Observer, by His essence as Creator, and by His power as a Conserver. To His friends He is actually present in a very special way — by His grace.
This great gift of God implies more than we realize. Not only does He share His divine life with His friends, but He comes and makes His dwelling within them. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit make of man a living tabernacle! How little known is this truth.
How often we look at the tabernacle in which the Sacred Host dwells, a tabernacle of steel or wood on the altar, a handmade tabernacle. We revere that tabernacle as something sacred; we decorate it, keep it spotlessly clean. The inside is lined with a white linen cloth, immaculate, because the immaculate Lamb of God rests there. But we human beings are God-made tabernacles, possessing God within us. This indwelling is not to be confused with the presence of the Blessed Eucharist within us, whereby Christ is present with His human and divine natures
God does not take this special dwelling in all men, but only in those who love Him: “If anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.”
This is the tremendous truth that St. Paul gave to his converts. Reports had reached him that the converts at Corinth were beginning to waver. Temptations, especially the allurements of the flesh, were becoming too much for some of them. To encourage them to remain steadfast in the Faith, he wrote a letter appealing to them to remember what gift they had received in Baptism: “Or do you not know that your members are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body.”
You can speak to God in your soul
To contemplate the indwelling of God is a way of prayer that has received the full approval of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, and of Pope Pius XII in his encyclical on the Mystical Body. St. Teresa long before them endorsed it for all interested in learning to love God more and more: “Remember how St. Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and eventually finding Him within himself. Do you suppose it is of little importance that a soul which is often distracted should come to understand this truth and to find that, in order to speak to its Eternal Father and to take its delight in Him, it has no need to go to Heaven or to speak in a loud voice?
However quietly we speak, he is so near that He will hear us: we need no wings to go in search of Him, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us. Nor need we feel strange in the presence of so kind a Guest. We must talk to Him very humbly, as we should to our father, ask Him for things as we should ask a father, tell Him our troubles, beg Him to put them right, and yet realize that we are not worthy to be called His children.”
A popular name among Christians in the early ages of the Church was Christopher, which means Christ-bearer. The early Christians, conscious of God dwelling in their souls, chose names that would remind them of their vocation to live with Christ.
St. Lucy, one of the early Christian martyrs, learned in her youth the truth of the divine indwelling. It was the Holy Spirit within her that moved her to keep her body a pure and fit temple for Him.
In our time, the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity was the great reality in the interior life of Sr. Elizabeth of the Blessed Trinity, a Carmelite nun of Dijon, France, who died in 1906. She sought Jesus within her soul. Indeed, she believed that everyone, even laypeople, should seek Jesus within them, for she wrote to her mother, “If you read the Gospel of St. John, you will see that the Master again and again insists on this commandment, ‘Abide in me and I in you.’ St. John in his Epistles hopes that we may have fellowship with the Holy Trinity: this advice is so sweet and simple. It suffices — St. Paul tells us so — it suffices to believe that ‘God is spirit’ and it is by faith that we draw near Him.
“Give thought to the fact that your soul is ‘the temple of God’ — again it is St. Paul who tells you so. Every instant of the day and night, the three Divine Persons reside in you. You do not possess the Sacred Humanity, as when you receive Holy Communion, but the Divinity. The Divinity whom the blessed adore in Heaven is in your soul. Once you are aware of this, it is a most delightful intimacy; you are never alone again. If you prefer to think that the good God is near you rather than in you, follow your preference, provided that you live with Him. . . .Reflect that you are with Him, and act as you do with someone you love. It is so simple: there is no need of beautiful thoughts; all that is necessary is simply an outpouring of the heart.”
Awareness of God’s indwelling deepens your love
After long and deep consideration of the divine indwelling, we begin to realize that Christianity is something we live, that it is a life given by Christ that grows, and this growth is one of union with God, who dwells as a lover within the heart of man. Human love grows; two hearts begin to beat as one, two wills to act as one. Such, also, is the love of man and God. Thinking of God within us, we begin to see things the way He sees them. We begin to will what God wills.
Once conscious of bearing God, we begin to talk to Him. We call out to Him, even in the heat of great work. We can do this because just a few words — even a sigh — suffice to convey our thoughts and desires to the indwelling God. When we grow more perfect in this, when our soul is in the continual presence of God, we send forth aspirations of love — breathing forth, in the full sense of the word.
We often hear and read about the “Christian way of life.” For some people, this is a vague and intangible expression. In reality, it means precisely what we have just described — namely, a life of common interest with God; a life in which this love of God dominates all our thoughts, words, and actions. The greater the love, the more Christian the life. Whatever we eat, drink, say, write, or do, it should come from our soul living in conscious union and silent conversation with God. It is this union with God that colors our whole life and makes it Christian.
When enough of us are conscious of this union and guided by it in our thoughts and actions, there will be a change in our country’s philosophy. When men and women, conscious of their calling, actually live in union of love with God in their daily lives, our politics, our literature, and our entertainment will become really Christian.
The world will become Christian when men become Christian.
To think of the indwelling of God takes but a moment. The imagination may or may not be called into play. But we should repeat this act continually. It does cost some effort, it does presuppose dogged perseverance, but it does not lead to nervous strain or headaches.
It is a simple act, especially for beginners: “My God within me, I love Thee.” We can think of God within us when we are alone. We can think of Him in a crowded subway, as we walk along a busy street, or as we sit in a classroom or run a lathe in a machine shop. We can think of Him as we stand over a stove or as we write a letter. We can think of Him as we bathe the wounds of the sick.
This continual practice does not mean that we reflect on God every moment of the day and night. Rather, it means that we are in a state of union with God, and from time to time we become conscious of this and break forth easily into an act of prayer.
But will this life make us introverts, self-centered? No, it will make us God-centered and neighbor-conscious. When we see our neighbor suffering, then, like Christ, we will want to help him. We will want to be like Him who gave His life that others might have life, and have it more abundantly. We will see God dwelling in the soul of our neighbor.
What a great effect the practice of the divine indwelling could have on the morals of society! Today, the world has lost the virtue of purity. We lack it in our cities as much as the Corinthians did in the days of St. Paul. But it could be restored to society if we were to look upon human beings as the living tabernacles of God, too sacred to be polluted. What better way could we restore the doctrine of the dignity of man, now vanishing among nations, than by seeing God dwelling within the souls of men, lifting all men up to be His sacred tabernacles?
Behold the dignity of man!
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Healy’s Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.